Western Dressage Exercise – Spiral Two Ways

If you have seen anatomical drawings of the horse’s upper neck, you have witnessed the vast number of important muscles inserted there. Most of these small muscles play significant roles during movement: stabilizing the shoulder, turning the neck, suspending the ribcage. This explains why lateral flexion creates softness throughout the horse’s whole body.

By loosening and balancing the poll, the horse is able to organize the rest of his muscular-skeletal system better. Not only does lateral poll flexion maintain critical spacing between spinal vertebrae (allowing them to rotate and flex better), it helps stretch the spidery web of tiny muscles behind the horse’s ears that otherwise become knotted and tight, leading the horse to brace his neck, jaw, back.

When most horses arrive for training they are difficult– if not impossible- -to bend easily on circles and lateral work. This is not due to them failing to understand my aids; it is from tightness and/or crookedness in their neck carriage and muscling. To resolve this physical restriction, I use the following two exercises, often alternating between each. This keeps horses responsive to my aids instead of performing with anticipation or evasiveness. With both of these exercises take your time to fully achieve lateral flexion each time through and then to ensure this degree of flexion is equal as you repeat them in each direction. Most horses have one direction where you will find the flexion trickier to establish. Continue to ask yourself, “Can I see his inside eye?” Any time the answer is no, cease the pattern briefly and re-establish lateral flexion before carrying on. Both of these patterns are best executed when followed by energetic forward riding to refresh the horse’s energy.

Spiral In to Turn on Forehand

  1. Develop working walk on a 20meter circle to the left.
  2. Begin to spiral inwards, reducing your circle size approximately three meters on each revolution of the circle.
  3. When you get down to a tiny circle and cannot shrink it any further, stop your horse’s front feet.
  4. Establish left flexion so you can clearly see the horse’s left eye.
  5. Then immediately execute a full turn on the forehand using your left leg.
  6. After a 360-degree turn, begin forward movement again and ride back out to your initial large circle.

Once polished, the two parts of this exercise should flow smoothly together so that your turn on the forehand begins fluidly as soon as you spiral in to a small circle. In the beginning it will be necessary to pause for a moment between spiraling in and doing the turn on forehand in order to organize your aids, develop lateral flexion, and so on. But after a few repetitions, they should flow together.

Spiral In, Leg-Yield Out

As I mentioned earlier, this exercise is a good one to ride after each repetition of the one above because it keeps your horse listening to and bending around your inside leg beautifully.

  1. Begin on a large circle to the right in working jog.
  2. Being sure to keep the horse’s poll flexed right, spiral your way down to a smaller circle.
  3. Aim to gradually shrink your circle until it is approximately 10-12 meters in diameter.
  4. Keep asking yourself, “Can I see his inside eye?”
  5. Ride once around this smaller circle. Maintain the energy of your jog, no slowing down!
  6. Then use your inside leg to leg-yield back out to your initial large circle. Maintain a steady rhythm in the leg-yield, no speeding up or slowing down.

It should take no longer than leg-yielding once around your circle to arrive back at the larger one that you started on. If it takes more than this, you will want to tune up your horse’s leg-yield cues.

Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

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